We drop off Kiambu Road before taking the dusty Thindigua road and head to our destination opposite Nzuzi Park, Kiambu County.
A big wide black gate is opened for us and we find him busy tending to his small farm that has sukuma wiki, spinach, tomatoes and coriander.
“The tomatoes haven’t done well owing to heavy rains,” says the heavily-built dreadlocked KCB Rugby and Kenya Sevens winger Arthur Owira.
He gives a command to his playful but obedient dogs - Dizzy and Hacker- that got excited after seeing us. Then he welcomes us with a warm plate of organic githeri at his wooden, colonial house as he directs one of his farm helps to pluck some farm produce for us to carry on our way out. Owira also rears chicken.
“I have just finished my morning gym session at that unfinished three-storey building there,” said the player, who would later take us the at the building to see his home-made weights. We made a stopover at his chicken coop and rabbit cage.
Besides embracing farming, he has converted part of the field for training where he plays Rugby League to pass time.
“I really want to focus on farming and I want to go large-scale since our lives revolve around food. This Covid-19 pandemic period has really taught us a lot,” explains the player. “I find this place serene and peaceful especially when it’s the chirping sound from the birds or cockerel that wakes me up in the morning.”
Do you live alone on this vast land?
“Please don’t push me to that end…please don’t go there,” Owira protested with a telling laughter as the barking by the dogs from the next room interrupted the interview.
“Okay, I got engaged to Sally Clough from Australia in January here in Kenya but the Covid-19 restrictions have made travelling impossible but we are in constant communication,” says Owira. “Sally was around in December when my father passed away.”
But is Owira planning to dump rugby union for rugby league?
Rugby League that has officially been introduced in Kenya is a full-contact sport played by two teams of 13 players on a rectangular field measuring 68m wide and 112–122 m long. However, the Kenya Rugby Union has two teams of 15 each, while the pitch measures 100m long and 69m wide.
Rugby League has no mauls, rucks and lineouts, while scrums are not contested. Basically, it’s a faster code of play unlike in rugby union that is popular in Kenya.
“I don’t think so, I am just using Rugby League style of play to keep fit but I am still a KCB Rugby and Kenya Sevens player,” says the 28-year-old Owira, who is quick to reflect about two years ago when his playing career almost came to a standstill during the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
Owira had just scored a try against Zambia at Robina Stadium, Gold Coast, before going for the restart. “The restart ball bounced behind me as I jumped to retrieve it since Billy Odhiambo was the first receiver,” Owira vividly recalls the April 14, 2018 incident as if it happened the other day.
“A Zambian defender fell on my thigh from behind, as I landed on the ground. I felt a terrible pain and I thought I had dislocated my knee.”
Match centre referee Fijian Tevita Rokovereni halted the match for almost 15 minutes as medics attended to Owira, who had fractured his right femur bone. The television director could not show the replay on the giant screen at Robina Stadium.
It was too painful to watch.
The femur is the main bone between the knee and hip, and is the biggest human bone. Owira was heavily sedated at the emergency room where he watched the match to completion where Kenya thumped Zambia 47-0.
After watching the match, Owira was admitted to Gold Coast University Hospital for surgery, then discharged to recuperate at the Commonwealth Games Athletes’ Village.
“I was fitted with a metal intramedullary rod, also known as an IM nail to stabilise the femur,” says Owira who remained in Gold Coast for one week-and-a-half for medication as the rest of the team travelled direct to Singapore for the World Rugby Sevens Series tournament.
“A lot crossed my mind…I wondered what was wrong after I got my first start to score the first try only to get a nasty injury. This was a big stage and I wanted to leave a mark,” says Owira. “I thought my playing career had ended.”
However, physicians at Gold Coast University Hospital were quick to reassure Owira that he would be up and running within eight months.
“The doctors in Australia were surprisingly encouraging. They told me I would play rugby well after one year. The medical and recovery facilities there are top-notch. No one can tell I had a surgery,” says Owira, who reckons that it has been a hard journey to recovery, having tried to overcome the fear of getting injured again.
“Being able to carry the ball and rucking felt good but there was that fear that I could be injured again. It takes time to get rid of the phobia,” says Owira, who got to play his first match and scored at Meru Sevens at Kinoru Stadium on July 27 last year.
“The good thing is that I had good teammates and coaches who encouraged me throughout. They played a big role in the comeback as I grew stronger mentally,” says Owira, who joined KCB Rugby for the 2015/2016 season from Kenya Harlequin.
It’s KCB Rugby fullback Darwin Mukidza, who challenged Owira to make the big switch from Kenya Harlequin after the bankers had won Kenya Cup.
Owira joined Quins in 2010 after his luck at Kisumu Rugby Club upon completing his Form Four at Ramba High School, Kisumu County failed.
“Rugby was banned at Ramba when I was in Form Four in 2010, which saw me join athletes to reach the district level in 400 metres,” says Owira who requested his father, Meshak Ogala, to take him to Nairobi where he will join a good rugby side.
“He obliged but told me to choose between KCB and Kenya Harlequin but I settled for the latter since they paid their players well,” notes Owira adding that his father thought he would join KCB that was at that time handled by former international Michael “Tank” Otieno, who was also a colleague at Barclays Bank now ABSA Kenya.
“I won Kenya Cup and Sevens Series with Quins in 2012 but that is the last time they ever won Kenya Cup and that is the bait Mukidza used to lure me to KCB,” says Owira, who attributes his growth in the game to former teammates at Quins, Sydney Ashioya, Victor Sudi, Peter Abuoga and the late Allan Makaka.
Owira earned his first Kenya Sevens call up for the 2017 Cape Town Sevens, replacing injured speedster Collins Injera and Dennis Ombachi.